Managing Innovative Projects - Dynamics of Managerial Activities in the Front-End and Development Phases of Innovation Process

Research output: ThesisLicenciate's thesis


Although there is a widespread agreement on the significant inherent disparities between different phases of innovation process, current management research largely ignores the differences of innovative project phases in the prescriptions of appropriate managerial activities. Further, not much emphasis has been put on the actual practices and actions of project managers, i.e., what is it that project managers actually do to manage innovative projects on a daily basis? This study addresses this gap in our understanding by investigating the dynamism of managerial activities and variations in the challenges faced by project managers in the inherently different front-end and development phases of the innovation process. To investigate the dynamics of managerial activities and challenges in the front-end and development phases of the innovation process, this study adopted a longitudinal, multiple case study approach looking into six industrial NPD projects in a graduate level product development course spanning an entire study year at Aalto University. For the study, six project managers - three with technical educational background and three with non-technical educational background - were interviewed thrice during the project life-span: in the front-end phase, early development phase and late development phase. Altogether 18 semi-structured interviews were conducted. A total of 858 managerial activities and challenges were identified in the interview transcripts. The data analysis resulted in 19 mutually exclusive categories of managerial activities which were further classified into five main classes: 1) general project management, 2) responsibility and ownership, 3) providing a suitable context for development work, 4) establishing a climate of trust, and 5) providing support within the project group. The results of the study showed differences between managerial activities in front-end and development phases of innovation process. In the front-end phase, the managers emphasized the importance getting to know the team members, and creating a common vision and understanding, whereas the allocation and scheduling of resources was emphasized in the later development phases. The most pressing challenges varied between phases as well, with for example ideation challenges resulting from the diverse approaches of the heterogeneous team members beings a key diversity challenge in the front-end, and the integration of the offsite team members the most pressing diversity challenge in the late development phase. The largest amount of the activities was reported in the front-end phase supporting earlier studies suggesting that managerial activities tend to decline over time, and that managers tend to retain or increase team member autonomy as the project proceeds. Also, the study supports previous studies noting early phases of the project to be significant for establishing behavioural norms in order to avoid failed or mediocre projects. Further, the study revealed task-oriented managerial activities to be dominant among the interviewed managers as opposed to people-oriented activities. However, managerial approaches did not remain static throughout the project but the examples of project manager either strengthening or decreasing the initially dominant task- or people-oriented managerial approach occurred. Finally, differences between project managers with technical and nontechnical backgrounds could be found regarding for example decision-making, role and task division, and hands-on participation.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationLicentiate's degree
Awarding Institution
  • Aalto University
  • Artto, Karlos, Supervising Professor
  • Aaltonen, Kirsi, Thesis Advisor
Publication statusPublished - 2013
MoE publication typeG3 Licentiate thesis


  • Front-end of innovation
  • New product development
  • Managerial activities
  • Dynamism
  • Project management

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